Literature Study GuidesTom JonesBook 8 Chapters 1 5 Summary

Tom Jones | Study Guide

Henry Fielding

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Tom Jones | Book 8, Chapters 1–5 : Containing about Two Days. | Summary



Book 8, Chapter 1

The narrator delivers a discourse on writing. First, he says that writers ought to stay within the boundaries of possibility when constructing a story. Second, writers should stay within the rules of probability. Third, action performed should be "within the compass of human agency" and within the bounds of what the character might do. Within these restrictions the writer has a lot of freedom, and "the more he can surprise the reader the more he will engage his attention."

Book 8, Chapter 2

The landlady visits Tom in his room and takes notice of him for the first time. She tells him he should not go around with soldiers since he is "a pretty young gentleman." She appears to know his story and claims Sophia slept in the very bed Tom is sleeping in when she came through with her aunt. Tom tells her he must go for a soldier because he has been turned out and disinherited; Tom's poverty is a great disappointment to her.

Book 8, Chapter 3

Of course the landlady knows about Sophia only because the lieutenant told her about the quarrel between Jones and Northerton. When the landlady leaves Tom begins pining over Sophia, so that the doctor finds him in a fever. He wants to bleed him again, but Tom refuses. The landlady says it is just as well since Tom is unlikely to pay him. The doctor storms back upstairs and demands to bleed Tom, and when he refuses again he feels justified in abandoning a likely deadbeat patient.

Book 8, Chapter 4

Tom gets up and dresses, asks for dinner, and calls the barber Benjamin to shave him. Jones enjoys the barber's wit and invites him to drink with him after dinner. While Tom is eating the landlady is telling a circle of people (which includes the barber) Tom's story, making up what she doesn't know or remember.

Book 8, Chapter 5

When Benjamin joins Tom for drinks, he asks if his name is indeed Jones and says he knows him. The barber relates that the landlady is repeating his name and stories about him, some of which are lies. Tom now tells the barber his entire story, and Benjamin comments that Mr. Allworthy must have been told lies about him, "invented by his enemies," otherwise he would not have thrown out one he loves so dearly. The barber next asks Tom the name of the lady he is in love with, and when he hears Sophia's name says he remembers both her and her father.


Fielding spends the first chapter of Book 8 informing the reader of some important principles of fiction writing for a new kind of work, which he calls a history but which has come to be called a realistic novel. While it can be argued that he is not the first person to write a realistic novel in English, he is the first to claim he is establishing a new province of writing, and perhaps the first one to so deliberately craft a tale that mimics ordinary characters in day-to-day life. In line with his first principle he feels free to borrow certain literary elements from classical literature, but he draws the line at using plot devices that rely on the supernatural or the intervention of divine forces since that doesn't occur in real life. Second, the author needs to stay within the bounds of probability, although for the modern reader the coincidences in the novel strain credulity. Third, the actions of the characters need to be possible and also plausible given the way they have been drawn by the author. For example, it would not be realistic for Sophia to curse at her father given the way her character has been written so far.

In the next chapters Tom continues to learn the lesson that people have little respect for a man without money. But he remains unaware of the lies and gossip being told about him behind his back. People's strong tendency to exaggerate and avoid questions, sometimes for personal gain and sometimes just for fun, is evident in what the landlady tells Tom about Sophia in Book 8, Chapter 2, as well as in the lies she tells about Jones around the fire in Book 8, Chapter 4. Tom remains an innocent rube, still having no idea how much the bad things people think about you can ruin your day. The barber Benjamin, none other than Mr. Partridge, the reader will soon learn, knows this lesson well, since he learned it the hard way—through experience. That is why he immediately realizes that Tom has been thrown out because of untruths that have been told against him by his enemies.

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